It Takes Two
The countdown for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics is on! As of today (March 8,2013), there are officially 336 days to go. We flashback to our Olympic cover story (March 2010) with Edmonton’s A-List athletic couple, Karen Percy and Kevin Lowe.
As Vancouver 2010 kicks off, Peter Muggeridge meets with 1988 Ski Medalist Karen Percy and hockey great Kevin Lowe and finds out how Edmonton’s A-List couple mix athletics and family into a winning game plan.
It’s early October in Edmonton, and the previous day’s brilliant sunshine has given way jarringly to grey skies and a bitter wind. And while it’s not quite winter yet, the weather foreshadows what lies ahead for the good people of northern Alberta — hockey season.
It’s the time of year Kevin Lowe lives for — always has, ever since he was a youngster growing up in Quebec. Now 50, the former star player with the Edmonton Oilers serves as club president. “My job is fun, enjoyable and exciting,” he says, eliciting envious glances from those within earshot.
Nowadays though, for Karen, it’s mostly about family. The 43-year-old blond athletic-looking mother of four is trying to keep things running in her exceedingly busy household. Keegan, their lanky 16-year-old son, is wolfing down his pre-game meal as he prepares for his Western Hockey League game that evening. Devyn, who just turned 18, is texting friends, organizing a get-together to celebrate her birthday. And the two younger girls, Darby and Karly, just back from school, are catching Mom up on the day’s events.
To add to this cheerful frenzy, there’s been a guacamole accident. Karen, making a dip for Devyn’s party, has had a mixer mishap, leaving green
goo scattered everywhere. As the dog laps up the spillage on the floor, Karen laughs good-naturedly.
For Kevin and Karen, this is more or less what they signed up for 22 years ago when they first met at a Wayne Gretzky charity softball event in Brantford, Ont. Engaged after three weeks, they started out on a compelling journey, combining top-level sports and hours of community involvement with the ever-present demands of family life.
Athletics and family have always been the central focus of their lives. Kevin, the youngest of four, grew up in a sports-mad clan from Lachute, Que. His father died when Kevin was 14, and the young teen considered quitting hockey to help his mother, Jessie, run the family’s dairy operation. “Kevin felt hockey came second to helping the family,” recalls Nancy Lowe, Kevin’s older sister who now resides with Jessie in nearby Edmonton. “But Ken [Kevin’s older brother, now the Oilers’ head medical trainer] convinced him that Dad would have wanted him to continue playing.”
While playing for the Remparts in 1977, the talented young defenceman caught the eye of Glen Sather, now the president of the New York Rangers, then coach and general manager for the Edmonton Oilers, a fledgling NHL outfit trying to compete against established clubs.
“Kevin showed all the competitiveness, skill and desire that came to define his pro career,” Sather says. Sufficiently impressed, in 1978 Sather made the 20-year-old the team’s first-ever draft selection. The rest is history. He not only scored the Oilers first goal but became an integral part of the high-flying Oiler teams of the ’80s, led by superstars Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, Glenn Anderson and Jarri Kurri.
“He was definitely one of the best teammates I ever played with,” says Messier, who skated with Kevin on all the Edmonton (and later New York) Cup-winning teams and remains a close friend. “The bigger the game, the better and the harder he played.”
Like Kevin, Karen was also a fiercely competitive athlete, recalls Nick Wilson, who coached her for both the Olympic and Canadian Ski teams. “Karen had the physical talent, obviously, but it was her mental toughness that made her stand out,” he says. “She could take the grind of travel and the physical toll of the competing, but she never let up and never let it get to her.”
Both Lowes played through severe injuries on their way to the top, an ability that often sets top-level athletes apart from the rest. “I’ve broken pretty well every bone in my body,” notes Kevin, almost nonchalantly, “Ribs, ankle, fingers, separated shoulders, wrist, concussions — it comes with the territory.”
And Karen’s all-out style on the hills meant she was no stranger to pain either. “In my first year on the World Cup circuit, I put
everything out on the edge” and had spectacular crashes as a result. “But if I hadn’t fallen so many times, I wouldn’t have gotten to the point I reached,” Karen says.
Surprisingly, neither Kevin nor Karen suffers from the post-career ailments that one would expect of athletes who compete in such extreme sports. In fact, thanks to a healthy diet and regular jogging and workout sessions, the pair could act as poster children for positive aging.
People who excel in their professions often get stuck in their own little universes, obsessed with mastering their craft. Not the Lowes. “Kevin always did a lot of work with charities. While most guys concentrated on playing hockey, he was branching out,” recalls Messier. Sather concurs. “He wasn’t a guy who spent his nights at the bar. Helping run the family’s dairy business as a youngster had made him a shrewd business guy, and he was always on the lookout for opportunities.”
Sather, indeed, played a key role in launching Kevin’s second career. He brought Kevin back from New York to end his playing career with the Oilers and began the process of mentoring him for management, a path that started at assistant coach, then coach, then general manager and now president.
When Karen’s skiing days were nearing the finish line, she decided to put her career aspirations on hold to concentrate on raising their growing brood. But she always knew that once the children were old enough, she’d find her niche. The opportunity arose when CTV, the Vancouver 2010 Olympic broadcaster, asked her to act as commentator for the women’s alpine events. “We’re thrilled to have her as part of the team,” says Gord Cutler, executive producer of Canada’s Olympic Broadcast Media Consortium. “She’s passionate about the sport.” Karen admits to being a bit nervous about her Olympic on-air efforts but, ever the competitor, she embraces the challenge. “The more pressure I have on me as a person, the
better I am.”
The Olympic spirit burns brightly in both. As well as broadcasting, Karen was looking forward to carrying the Olympic torch through Banff, when it arrived on its Vancouver-bound tour this January. And Kevin, a member of Team Canada’s management, is helping assemble the hockey team for this Olympics. He describes being part of the 2002 Salt Lake City Gold Medal team as “magical” and feels a Team Canada victory on home turf might even top that experience.